Friday, May 30, 2008

In the park with family

Today is the 23rd anniversary of my sister’s death. Partly by chance and partly by design I spent the day with my mum, one of my brothers and his two kids. We went to the park opposite the house in which we grew up. There is a tree there that a friend had planted soon after my sister died, and another that we planted three years ago.

There was a party shop by the bus stop and my brother had the bright idea of getting a shiny helium balloon to tie to one of the trees. So, we did that and ate picnic lunch and drank tea from the cafe. The four kids were playing quite happily today – the girls using Pearlie’s walkie talkies and the boys seeking staffs and forbidden cities in the bushes.

Being in that area of town is always a bit odd. Everything is smaller than I remember and I realise how often the house I grew up in features in my dreams. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to live near there again. Wondering is as far as it’ll ever get as all the houses now cost at least 400 thousand!

It is a park full of memories for all of us. One of the few baby photos of me is of me sitting on a rug (seven or eight months old maybe?) in that park with my grandmother – my mum’s mum. There are photos, taken on the same day, of my siblings in a tree that is still there.

We walked back to my mum’s place – along the roads that were my route home from junior school. We drank more tea and played some word games with the girls. The boys were busy making up complex tombola style games where you won coupons to join their organisation! My brother and I walked our kids back to our part of town. All four kids are very stalwart walkers, thank goodness.

When we got in we made pizzas for tea and now Dani and Pearlie have gone to Critical Mass. I know that there is no reason why it is any more or less dangerous for them today, but I am a bit more twitchy!

My poor mum has had a strange week as she was ready to go to hospital for a cataract operation on Tuesday. When she phoned on Monday night the whole list of people for Tuesday had been cancelled. It had actually been cancelled weeks ago but human error meant that no-one had told her. I know that people have much more stressful waits for more serious conditions, but it was still upsetting for her. That is not good as she is struggling to keep her blood pressure down. Anyway, she’s due to have it done next Tuesday. Fingers crossed it all goes ahead this time.

I am intending to post something about western medicine and the NHS but it’ll take some mulling over.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Looking like migraine for the boy too

This morning, I spent some time writing a very short, short story. I ate a quick lunch and went to work for a busy afternoon and evening.

Dani took the children to town this morning. They bought some tickets for the next Squeezebox Rocks gig on June 14th, picked up some pebbles for our tiny, new pond, looked at some art and then went round to cousins for lunch. They spent the afternoon playing with cousins, but Leo was complaining, intermittently, about a headache.

By the time they came home at about six he was feeling rough enough to crash out on his bed. Dani gave him a drink and painkillers but he felt too rough to eat. Then, at about 7.30pm, he was on his way down to tell Dani he felt strange in his tummy, when he realised he’d have to stop off at the loo to throw up. By the time I got home from work, at about 8.30pm, he’d eaten a Quorn burger and was gradually pinking up again! This is the second time, fairly recently, that Leo has had a headache that has built to a peak and then resolved with a throwing up incident. It is so migraine like that I think that is what must be happening. He has no fever and it’s not a vomiting bug, because it just happens once and no-one else catches it.

I think we might go to the GP and see what they can prescribe for him. He’ll have to learn to take the drug early enough and/or stop what he’s doing and rest in a peaceful place if he’s going to recover quicker and/or not have to throw up. And we have to start getting clear about what his triggers are so we can try to avoid attacks altogether. It seems quite clear that eating regularly is important – no getting too hungry and no quick release carb feasts. I’m sure that’s what happened today – he got hungry and then had (white) pasta and cake. So, we need to start watching that stuff and finding him good foods to keep his blood sugar stable. Ho hum, there’s many worse things he could suffer with and I have read some stuff that says he may well grow out of it. Let’s hope so.

In defence of TV – that flickering box of delight...

I seem to be encountering quite a few people, recently, who think that TV is ‘a bad thing’ for children. I’m sure that the computer game fans among you face similar attitudes about children and computer games. The idea seems to be that children are fundamentally damaged by access to TV, that their brains can’t cope with it and they would be better off without it. The talk is of the flashing lights and colours and short attention spans that it will (apparently) create. There is little discussion of the content of the programmes.

I have a lot of childhood memories that involve TV. I guess that people of my generation were among the first to have that influence in their lives – in this country anyway. I can remember the thrill of Doctor Who - dipping chips in ketchup and huddling around the tv. I can remember Andy Pandy with my mum at lunchtime when I was three. Looby-Lou had a special song that she sang about ‘the others’ being away and I used to sing it too – because my ‘others’ were at school and this was my secret time. I loved Bagpuss (of course) and Pipkins, which had a gorgeous talking hare. There were the imports like The Muppet Show and Mork and Mindy. I could tell you all about the Blue Peter appeal for Cambodia and how I entered a poster design in the competition for the International Year of the Child and got a runner-up badge and was thrilled.

When I got older there were dramas and comedies that spoke right to me. I remember that the Victoria Wood: as seen on tv shows started just after we bought our first video recorder. I taped them and watched them, again and again, learning the scripts and reciting them with my friends. I sat up very late into the night to watch a drama called The Two of Us, which told the tale of a relationship between two teenage boys. I can remember the chair I was sitting in, the look of certain scenes, the attack on one of the boys and some of the language. I saw that drama just once. It has stayed with me because it connected with me at a certain point in my life.

Oh, I could witter on like this for hours, telling you all about tv that made me squirm and tv that saved my sanity. But that would get rather tedious. And, after all, if my brain was fried in my early childhood, then no doubt all my perceptions have been skewed. But, the thing is, I don’t think it did harm me. I don’t think I do have a problem with concentration or thinking creatively. I don’t think I did as a child. I could spend three hours solid watching Champion the Wonder Horse and Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and Banana Splits, and then go and play with my dolls house for three hours. I did just that. I rode a bike a lot, read books up trees, did bizarre obstacle courses with my brother, played for hours in the bath – and watched tons of TV. When I was ten I got a black and white portable (beloved object that is in the loft and when last was plugged in still worked!) and had it in my room. The deadly sin of the modern parent and I had this in 1980! Ha! I shared a room with my brother at that age and we used to watch ‘The Professionals’ with the light off and the volume down. I don’t think it warped me. I’ve never felt compelled to get a bubble perm.

Our kids have had tv in their lives from the start. Both were mesmerised by videos of The Singing Kettle. It held the ever moving P still for half an hour and prompted extended fantasy play for Leo. It was sometimes infuriating crap (Jellikins made me ashamed for Rik Mayall) and sometimes a lovely nostalgia trip – Clangers, Bagpuss and The Herbs. Teletubbies became part of all our lives and I’ll always have a fondness for Po on her scooter and Tinky Winky’s bag. I never bothered about timing their TV watching but we all have a hatred of TV that isn’t being watched, so it gets switched off as soon as that starts to happen.

I do, sometimes, despair at the crap that is on TV. In my huffy opinion, there is way too much reality stuff and far too little original drama – for adults and kids. But there is still a great deal, in every day, that we can find to entertain, enlighten and educate us all. The music of Springwatch brings a smile to my face!

I’m all for unusual, minority choices in parenting. You kind of have to be if you home educate... If TV free life is your thing then good for you. But, what I object to is when people suggest that tv use is some kind of slack parenting strategy to keep children occupied – no matter the damage done to their brains. It’s also a favourite piece of government parenting ‘advice’ to limit screen time and use it as a bargaining, punishment/reward thing. To me, that is as objectionable as rationing access to books or cutting reading time if your child does something’ wrong’. Of course, if the oil runs out and we can’t power all our boxes of tricks then we’ll have to live without. But, I wonder, if in those dark homes, parents will huddle round the fire and tell their children traditional tales about Basil Brush....

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


We had a good day of bits and bobs on Monday. There was some Taboo playing, computering, making of things and reading. Dani and Pearlie went to B&Q to get a new kettle and a plug for our embryonic pond. We’re going to fix it in with bathroom sealant. Leo and I bathed Bunny and I gave him a hefty fur-cut at his back end. As he gets older, he is more inclined to just sit in wee etc. – charming! We did a little trip up to the park and brought Bunny some dandelion leaves.

The kids have been meaning to write some lyrics for an original song they’re working on at Squeezebox. Pearlie went off with the rhyming dictionary and got started. I offered input when I was asked and Leo joined in too. I think it’s a promising start.

Yesterday morning was rather slow but included Boggle, cards and quizzes on the Newsround website. Dani was at work for the day. After lunch with Fawlty Towers (to distract poor P from persistent hiccups!) we went off for their Squeezebox band session. I think this went well. I read the local paper while I waited for them and did Sudoku on my phone. Then we went up to the park where some home edders were gathered. Pearlie chatted with friends and so did I. Leo spent an exhausting couple of hours being Indiana Jones. He got involved in a game where a bigger boy (of about twelve) had a stick and Leo and a couple of mates were trying to capture it. Leo was thrilled to find that his whip (bit of light rope) actually wrapped round this stick. This was clearly tiring stuff as he is only just awake now – 10.15am on Wednesday.

Dani and I were awake very late and saw some of the thunder storm. It was a wild one.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Just love the buzz

On Friday night we went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It was good, silly fun. I was pleased to see Marion back and the kids thought it suitably scary.

On Saturday afternoon we went to see the fabulous TomTom Club performing in a huge purple cow – the Udderbelly, which is here for the Brighton Festival. The TomTom Club was fantastic – very high energy and exciting. We only paid for tickets to one festival event this year but I’m glad we chose this one as I think it will stay with us all.

After the show we went to see some of the free acts performing as part of the International Buskers day. Leo and I saw a Canadian man catch a cabbage on a special spiky helmet. We all watched a nice clown type of guy who did his act in character rather well. We checked out the Giant squid Farm that had sprung up near the library and Dani watched a strong woman.

The only down side of the day was that I was battling a migraine, which had been exacerbated by weird lighting, loud noise and heat during the TomTom Club and then the bright sunshine outside. We had to pop up to the shopping centre to get a birthday pressie for someone and after that I found I could barely talk and needed to sleep.

After a restorative nap, I settled down with the others to watch Eurovision. It was the usual bizarre affair. I liked Iceland – pretty boy Euro pop. Dani liked a woman singing a peace song – from Georgia, I think. Leo liked the pirates from Latvia and Pearlie the surreal duo from Bosnia. But none of ours won. That accolade went to a man from Russia who was in located in a rather hazardous position between an ice-skater and fiddle player.

While the early stages of the voting were happening, we turned the sound down and played our latest game – Taboo. This is a game that Dani and I bought a couple of years before P was born and loved at the time. The kids are suddenly old enough to play it and they are really enjoying it. The kids do very well and it is great for fits of giggles. There are a few cards that they just don't know but we just skip those.

Sadly, I woke this morning with the migraine enjoying a come back! I was really struggling to function but managed to get in to work. A combination of lots of painkillers, mint chewing gum and very slow walking in the fresh air helped it abate. Work was ok as I took things pretty slowly and tried not to react to the Time of the Year Panic which is in the air!

While I was at work, Dani and the kids enjoyed some more local art houses. They saw papier-mâché people by Eve Turner-Lee, paper planes by Hannah,some lovely little birds made of clay by someone whose name they didn’t record and photographs by Lauren Chavin and Andy Deighton. Pearlie was very taken with some cardboard lampshades by Tabitha Bargh.

When they got home, they dug all the soil out of one of the lab sinks in our garden so that we can make a little pond. Cousin S has recently done this and P, in particular, is keen for us to have a go.

When I got home we ate a rather strange tea of bits and bobs and played more Taboo. Then we watched the singing Nancies on BBC 1 and Have I Got News for You on i-player.

Oh, yeah, and the new circuit breaker did its thing last night when they kettle died. Thank goodness, we have just purchased a little travel kettle for camping so the tea flows on...

I was thinking yesterday that life in Brighton is so very tasty – well-seasoned with exciting events and lively people all year round. There’s always something to look forward to and chat about. It is easy to spend money but there’s also lots that doesn’t cost – or cost much. The place is littered with artists and I just love the buzz.

Friday, May 23, 2008

All things come...

Lots of things have happened in the last few months that have made me realise, again, how wonderful it is when the moment is right for the children to acquire a new skill, or take a new step in growing up, and it just happens. Sometimes those things happen ‘by magic’ and sometimes they require some work, but the lovely thing about them is that they happen because the time becomes right.

Leo was very clear, at the age of three, that he didn’t want to be left at nursery school. The experience of a just a few days trying shook him up a fair bit. We backed off and I did, occasionally, worry that we were ‘storing up trouble’ or that he would never be happy ‘to be left’. But his evident happiness that it was no longer necessary to struggle with the issue made us sure we’d done the right thing. Earlier this week, Leo started at an art group for home educated kids. When I spoke to him about whether he was happy to be there alone, he was certain that he’d be fine. He is just eight years old and he was calm and confident, pleased to meet the ‘real artist’ who runs the group and show him some of his drawings. It is lovely to see how Leo has grown, bit by bit, in confidence and is now ready to go along to anything that he fancies and give it a go. There are plenty of kids who are happy to do that at four or five, but Leo has got there in his own time, and that’s the only time that matters.

Pearlie is ever more grown up too. She’s learning all the skills involved in being independent as she goes about the place alone. What I like about our life is that she can make the choices that feel right that day. Rather than having to get on the school bus, one day at the age of eleven, and then every day after, she has the opportunity to build up to longer journeys – or make a big leap if she’s in the mood. I put a great deal of store in listening to yourself, judging what feels right by how you feel, not what you think you should be able to do – or not do. P is remarkably capable in the world and enjoys her independence, but it’s on her own terms and in her own time. She's so sociable - spent the whole day with other kids and adults today in two different home ed groups and at Woodcraft. She's looking forward to a Woodies camp in the summer and a trip to the Isle of Wight with other home edders but without us!

In the last couple of months, Leo’s handwriting has developed into a, very fine, script. This has been just another stage in his development as a literate person. He’s taken every step at his own pace – and in his own way. By his sixth birthday he could read more or less anything that fell under his gaze, but his writing was still likely to have reversed letters, no gaps between words or punctuation to speak of. His spellings were largely phonetic and his letters a mix of upper and lower case. This never stopped his enthusiasm for writing and I’m sure that he learned loads through this early writing. His adoption of this new writing style has been really rather easy – maybe because he had laid all the real foundations of writing already – in his own way. He already knew how to spell, a lot of rules of punctuation and had considerable stamina. If we’d given him a pencil at five and got him sitting down tracing joined script (like they do in the schools round here) who knows what we would have been disrupting? I did offer to help him learn to write like this and I have supported him in his learning, but he was happy to put in some time every day because it was the right time – the time he wanted to learn a joined script. And, so, here it is - Leo’s achievement in Leo’s own time. And for his own purpose...

Pearlie is at a moment in her life when she is ready to understand a lot about how the world works – politics and all that. She reads First News and the local paper every day. She watches the news and reads websites and loves to watch Have I Got News for You and some of Bremner, Bird and Fortune. I guess there are many eleven year olds who would find both those shows impenetrable and uninteresting. But this is the right time for Pearlie and so she is getting what she can from them at the moment. She really likes the bit in BBF where posh London types are having a dinner party. There’s so much there to observe and learn from – the politics, satire, good writing, excellent comic timing... The right things at the right time for P.

I guess it isn’t always a case of waiting. Sometimes our kids do things that take us by surprise because they happen before they’re ‘expected’. But, either way, the right time is the right time and the order in which those things come along is the order that’s right for that child. Home education gives us the freedom to respect the pace, the order, the style of our kids’ learning and I love it. Of course, there will be times in the kids’ lives when they’re under pressure, when they need to get to grips with something quick, or suffer the consequences. That’s true for all of us. But I hope that lots of time learning things in their own way will keep them confident and engaged with the world. I think it’s true so far!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ups and downs and miserable internetty do dahs

We’ve been having infuriating internet probs, which were down to Orange, not us. Here’s hoping the computer can actually get to Blogger when I’ve finished this!

It’s been a busy few days. Yesterday nearly wiped me out, for some reason.

Highlights have been:

  • Dani and the kids watched an aerial tango on the seafront – sounds good, doesn’t it? Strange, though, because when we did ballroom we were told that the Tango was danced very ‘into the ground’.
  • They also went to some open art houses (happens every year as part of festival fringe) and saw beautiful paintings of sky.
  • Leo started at the home ed art group (he and P are going alternate weeks) and enjoyed it.
  • Pearlie had an enjoyable visit to the grandmothers’ house.
  • Doctor Who with giant wasp and Agatha Christie was fab. I liked spotting all the book titles in the dialogue and some of the other word play jokes.
  • Pearlie made our full house number and street name out of Lego and stuck it in her window.
  • Leo has been Indiana Jones a lot. He is sleeping in his hat, going everywhere with a bit of orange rope and made himself a cardboard holy grail.

Not good bits:

  • Having a half hour wait for my bus home from work on Monday night. This was after manic day involving lots of rushing about and ending with the joyful discovery that someone had piled six volumes of the OED under their desk. Decided they’d been using them as a footstool. Work is just SO busy at the mo.
  • Leo having a nasty headache today. We are wondering if he has migraine tendencies after a recent headache which involved throwing up. He’d had pasta for lunch and I think he’d had a blood sugar crash during the afternoon.
  • Dani and I having to face the sad demise of our two favourite shirts. Both shirts have been in our lives longer than the children! Have I ever mentioned that we’re not very into buying new clothes?
  • Ups and downs of busy life with tired people.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Books and burbles

I can’t be bothered to catch up. So, what shall I blog about?

How about a bit about books? I’m currently reading Pearlie Halfmoon Investigations, which is pacy and fun. Dani and Leo are sharing Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse. I’m not too sure what the kids are reading to themselves. Pearlie recently read The Hunger, another in the My Story series. Leo is, I think, still ploughing on to the end of the Amber Spyglass. He’s been quite diverted by Indiana Jones and is awaiting some spin-off book he’s bought on Amazon. We had a good conversation about racism and sexism after watching ‘Temple of Doom’ last weekend. Leo observed that women on tv and in films all seem to be like Barbie Dolls! Dani is reading The richness of life, which is very learned and not really my cup of tea. I’m writing more than reading right now – after running out of Ali Smith. Mind you, I’ve been dipping into Brilliant Careers: the virago book of 20th century fiction. Dani and I both read The Queen of Whale Cay too. That was an astonishing story.

I’m enjoying the kd lang album, Watershed, on my cheapo mp3 player. It’s a lovely summer album and I spent a joyful half hour sitting on the beach people watching, while listening to it, last week. The kids were at Squeezebox and I was able to be entirely alone. You know how, sometimes, the music in your ears runs like a soundtrack to the people around you? This young couple of women were on the beach, totally wrapped up in each other. Made me smile and took me back to lunch-hour encounters in my youth!

There’s not much else to report here. Kids went to the dentist and all was well. Pearlie lost a big, back tooth. She must have nearly run out of milk teeth now. Leo seems to have hit something of a plateau in tooth changing. The dentist said they might have to take out some milk teeth to kick start some more coming through. I think we’ll just wait. He is probably going to hit the family curse of big teeth in small jaw, which leads to an overcrowded mess – hence my buck teeth.

The kids and I got free Flakes in town today. We even went back and got seconds. Pearlie took off her cardigan and Leo his hat, so they wouldn’t recognise us!

Oh yeah, here’s a little witticism from our area. We live near a pub called The Constant Service. It is named after the introduction of a piped water system to the area – rather ironically, I’ve always thought. Anyway, bit by bit, letters have been going missing from the name. Last week, someone managed to arrange the remaining ones to re-christen the pub Vices Cost.

I can’t blame drink for my recent inability to speak properly, though I did have a rare bottle of beer with my tea tonight. But the other morning I looked intently into Leo’s face and asked:

“Will you be alright with bare teeth?”

I did, rather unsurprisingly, mean feet, not teeth. What is sad is that I can remember my mum making similar verbal stumbles in my childhood and I’d think, “what IS the matter with her, why can’t she just say what she means?” I’ve learned the hard way that it is the creeping of age.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Pearlie and I went for a lovely bike ride on Monday. We’d planned to do it straight after Kids Club, and I’d taken the last hour off my morning’s work, so that we could get away a bit earlier, and then we heard that a new home ed art group was starting that day, at 12.30. We talked about it and decided to go anyway, after the art group.

We went by train to Berwick, then followed National Cycle Route 2 down to Exceat, where the visitors centre for the Seven Sisters Country Park is. We carried on beside the wiggly river, to the sea. Altogether, we cycled about 11 miles.

We saw horses, sheep and cows, hundreds of rabbits, and a fox ran straight across the road in front of us. The weather was glorious. We cycled along very quiet roads, overhung with green branches, surrounded by birdsong. We saw the Long Man of Wilmington and a white horse carved into a hill in the distance.

Pearlie dipped her feet in the river when we got there, and delightedly spotted little fish and shrimps in the water. On the way back up the river from the sea, we talked about why rivers have fresh water and sea water is salty, and she tasted the water every now and then, to see how long it took to change.

We folded up our bikes and took the bus home. Lovely.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Busy in the sunshine

Here’s some bits and bobs from the last few days.

Thursday included Kids’ Club for both the kids where they did detective things: identifying whose fingerprints were on a particular item and who had taken a bite from an apple. They are planning to make a little detective film next week, I believe.

Dani had rather less fun at a meeting. We then got carried away talking in the park and nearly missed Woodcraft for P and a Woodies parent meeting for Dani. I was off work on leave again and so got to join in with all the panic!

Friday was the big drop-in session that happens a couple of times a month. I took along some Japanese braiding to share with people. Some people loved it and some endured it and I think it was worth doing!

After that, Leo and I popped to the doc to get a prescription for anti-histamine that seems to be working well for him. Saw a new, young doctor who spoke to Leo in a lovely, straightforward, non-patronising way. She also impressed me with her willingness to prescribe just what I asked for!

Then there was a quick park visit to put up our new tent, which seems to work well. In the evening there was a Hedline meeting at our house. That was enough for one day!

On Saturday morning, Pearlie was lucky enough to be taken to see Michael Rosen by a friend and her family. She said he was SO funny and she came back very jolly. Then we went to the swimming pool, where we had organised a private booking to be shared between local home edders. Those who came seemed to enjoy it a lot and I hope we can do it again.

After swimming, the kids were really enjoying playing in the park with cousin S and friends A and C. Sadly, the fun came to an abrupt end when A got hit on the head by a heavy metal catch. It is a ‘safety feature’ to stop little ones reaching the pond but it managed to make a rather horrible, bloody wound on A’s head. We went home and A and C came to sit in our cool basement for a while. A was quite calm and ok by then, thanks, in large part, to her very calm mum. I am rather hopeless when ours get hurt and tend to let my fear affect them.

On Sunday, I had to go back to work. Pearl and cousin S had an exciting trip to see Caroline Lawrence who told them all about how she writes. Meanwhile, Leo was playing in the paddling pool with cousin D. That must have been fun because he’s still asleep at 10am this morning!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Enjoying my leave

I had a day off today and missed the discovery of an unexploded 2nd ww bomb on the campus!

But, anyway, we had a lovely day. Leo went to Kids’ Club this morning and had a good time doing some treasure island themed things and playing with his chums. Pearlie and I popped to town to get a pressie for a friend of hers and them came home to brush up our division skills with an MEP book.

We met Dani at the cycling park, once she had finished work. It was wonderful weather and both the kids had a great time cycling about the place.

Pearlie took some beautiful photos of things like bluebells and damsel flies - but I'll let her blog those. Leo got more and more confident and was whizzing off, away from us, in no time.

Yesterday deserves a quick mention. Kids had Squeezebox sessions and Leo went to Green Pig writing group. We also spent a few hours in the park with lots of home edders and scoffed cafe treats.

We are having lots of great conversations at the mo but I can’t remember any details to blog, I’m afraid!

Our new tent arrived today. It is wonderfully old fashioned looking object with the kind of poles that tents had in my childhood, rather than the spindly things they have these days. We need to find some time to get to a park in a quiet moment so we can have a go at pitching it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Boy on a Bike!!

We’ve had a busy weekend here. I was, sadly, at work on Saturday and Sunday afternoons but we did enjoy a day together yesterday.

Saturday was the Children’s Parade that kicks off the Brighton Festival.

Pearl and Leo weren’t taking part this time but they, and Dani, went to watch cousins and friends. The theme was children’s games and there were some fab constructions. After the parade they went to the beach and met this lovely hermit crab.

We watched Dr Who in the evening and ate roast dinner.

On Sunday, Leo had a friend round to play. They had a great time playing with all his toys and then played games on the Doctor Who website. Pearlie went with uncle and cousins to the family beach hut. I struggled a bit with being at work because I was battling a migraine. Dani has been doing lots of writing/thinking about local authority home ed stuff that is still ongoing. I’ve been doing my best to share that work but my head made it hard to stay up late.

We gave ourselves a lovely, family day on Monday. It was beautiful weather and we went across town to the best park for cycling. Pearlie enjoyed buzzing around on her new bike and Leo, who has inherited Pearlie’s old bike, learned to ride! We managed to forget to have the camera with us, which is a shame. Leo did wonderfully well. He never rode tricycles as a toddler, and found steering and balance a big challenge when he started riding a scooter. But, last year he got really good on the scooter and I think the balance skills were very useful. Within an hour on the bike, he was able to keep riding when Dani started him off. Within two hours he was doing the whole thing – starting, riding, and stopping without falling off. HOORAY!

After a few hours in the park, we walked home and had showers/baths and rest. It was real sweaty summer weather! In the evening we went down to the travelling fair that comes a couple of times a year. The kids went on a few rides and hooked a Tweenies character to get a teddy.

Here's some anti-car chalking that has appeared out side our door ;-)

Right, got to get dressed before Ocado arrive with the shopping...

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Nasty little notion - rant alert!

It’s not often that my jaw hits the floor these days. I feel like I’m often existing in some bizarre Orwellian nightmare when I listen to the pronouncements of the great and good. Let’s face it, when people vote for Boris Johnson in large numbers (because they think a public school educated bigot acting the clown is funny?) the world can’t get much stranger. But, today, this little gem (sorry links not working) caught my eye on the BBC website.

Can others see the inherent contradictions here? First, Clarissa Williams criticises the push to get all children into early years settings asap and says,
“Are parents so distrusted that we want to separate them from their children at the earliest opportunity?"
I was rather pleased to hear someone so far on the inside of the system say something so sensible. But then she goes on to propose that people’s benefit levels should be affected by whether or not they “engage with schools”. It seems she can’t quite let go of the distrust herself. Patronising is the word that springs to mind. Would she like star charts down at the benefit office too?

Like Ms Williams, I dislike the punitive attitudes of councils who jail the parents of truanting children, and so on. But, unlike Ms Williams, I don’t favour an approach that seeks to replace the stick with a carrot. I know that it is unfashionable to say it, but when it comes to the welfare of their children, people are best motivated by their love for their children. They don’t need slapped wrists or extra pocket money. They need a system that respects their relationships and stops lecturing long enough to listen to what people actually say they need and want.

It seems to me that, deep within our culture these days, is an unshakeable idea that we are consumers. The rhetoric is all about participation but, when you dig a little, it is clear that you are meant to shut up and ‘engage with’ what is doled out, with a happy smile and a thank you. Public services should be just that – services that belong to us all. They never are. Sometimes people manage to access a bit of funding to get some, genuinely participatory, project off the ground but it is always a struggle. I encountered that when D and I were volunteers at the local Breastfeed Drop-in. At the time there were funds aplenty for Sure Start initiatives but this, well-established, peer to peer support project, was always in financial crisis. Running costs were very low but it seemed that, unless you were operating under the umbrella of the ‘good thing’ that was Sure Start, then you had to be constantly seeking new sources of funding and spending hours of volunteer time on filling in grant applications. You’re really not meant to do it yourselves - just turn up at the approved venue and get your services as they see fit.

This is, it seems to me, the key to understanding the state education system. It was why it always felt so hard to influence anything when we were parents of a school child. We were meant to be constantly grateful for everything (not that I’m against gratitude to individuals who do a good job) but never question. We did our best and were just the sort of ‘engaged’ parents that Ms Williams wants. We helped out in the classroom, washed paint pots, read with ‘slow readers’ and all that stuff. I can remember taking down Santa’s grotto well into the evening, after the Christmas fair. But, that really wasn’t participation. We could raise the money for play equipment but still had to abide by every edict without question. One day it was decreed that parents could no longer take their children to the classroom at the start of the day. Children had to be handed over to their teacher in the playground. Teaching assistants were posted, like bouncers, on the doors. I had to fight my way in to help my five year old out of her waterproof trousers, because no-one else was doing it and I could see her mounting panic and distress. That just made me a ‘naughty mummy’ and, no doubt, I would have been docked some of my golden time. You must be ‘engaged’ it seems, just how and when the PTB want you.

The truth, I suspect, behind Ms Williams bright idea is that she has a nice little stereotype in mind of the kind of parents who need to be motivated with extra benefit payments. They’re nothing like her, or her friends, of course. People ‘like her’ just do the right thing because they are socially responsible and mature and have their children’s best interests at heart. It is all about us and them, isn’t it? People like ‘them’ need bribes. I’m surprised she didn’t suggest free scratch cards. But, it’s all the rage at the moment, this sort of idea. Where we live, primary school children’s names are entered in a lottery for a new bike – if they achieve 100% attendance at school. Quite apart from the inherently unpleasant notion that being ill or unable to attend school is always a BAD thing (what about children with serious health problems who will never get entered in the lottery?) the whole scheme is aimed squarely at certain ‘types’ of school where attendance is a ‘problem’. It’s also aimed, rather transparently, at children who don’t already have a nice bike – or whatever the bribe may be. You can read between the lines. Just like we can read between the lines of what Ms Williams is proposing.

The state education system is clearly about ensuring compliance – far more than it is about education. But what is particularly scary about Ms Williams’ idea is the ease with which people now accept that ‘the state,’ acting as a single entity, should be able tweak the lives of individuals to suit a current political/ideological goal. Benefit payments should be about ensuring the basics of life to everyone in our society, not a means by which the state can make people jump through hoops. YUK.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Park life

We live in an area where hardly anyone has much of a garden. Ours is typical for the area – a concrete rectangle of about eight foot by twelve. The fronts of the houses have no gardens at all – the doorstep is right on the street. About ten years ago, as soon as we realised that we had a child who needed to run, lots, every day, we started to factor our local park into our day to day lives.

I can remember jogging around the play area in steady rain, tailing Pearlie, in her all-in-one waterproofs and welly boots. She was about two and I was probably fitter than I ever was before, or since! Later on, I spent most of a whole summer in the park, with little baby Leo feeding and sleeping under the big tree by the sandpit and three year old Pearlie learning to swing herself and climb to scary heights on the climbing frames. She watched her friend D chalking his name around the place and was doing it herself by the autumn. We took toys of all kinds – balls, scooters, little trucks to fill with sand, skipping ropes – and books. As Leo grew older we usually took paper and pens too. Leo has often sat beside me, drawing for an hour or more, while P plays with friends.

This park is really a communal garden for the people of this area. There have been days when I guess there must have been fifty people I knew, to a greater or lesser extent, in the park. There are plenty of people who I never really see in the winter months but nod to in the park - people I was at breastfeed drop-in with eight years ago, people I see in the shop, people whose kids are at school with my nephews and niece. And, in the last four years that we’ve been home edding, I have realised that the park has always been a key feature in that part of the local community too. At least once a week, in the summer, we can usually be found with other home edders in the park. There are often children from babies to teens playing, chatting and hanging out.

It’s a bit sad that you don’t see more schooled older children in the park, but you don’t. Most of them get bussed across town to secondary schools and by the time they’re back it’s quite late and they have homework to do, I guess.

It isn’t an idyll, by any means. Sometimes things kick off a bit and last weekend somebody set fire to the lovely, wooden train during the night - and pretty much destroyed it. Our kids were sad to see it go and so was I. Many is the hour I spent in the back - being driven to London, the sea, the shops. I’ve also sat crammed in there in a downpour, handing out biscuits and waiting for the rain to stop.

But the park will be fine. It’ll survive because it is loved. It’s a circular thing – people use the park because people use the park. I have known plenty of other parks in my life that weren’t used much at all – so there was no-one to hassle the council when the stuff got broken, no-one to dissuade vandalism and violence and they weren’t nice places to be. I’m not sure how you change that. Round here, there is a combination of lots of families with children, without large gardens of their own, but with a thriving park nearby. It must have evolved that way. Possibly, one of the other strengths is that people have enough money to support the wonderful park cafe. It is just a kiosk but it serves home-made cakes and scones, sandwiches, hot drinks and crisps. This means that adults are generally quite relaxed – not itching to get home for a cup of tea!

Over the years, people campaigned (off and on) for toilets in the park - instead of the one, dodgy, dirty automatic cubicle. Now we have them. They aren’t the most beautiful toilets you could ever use – as lots of small people use them unaccompanied – but they’re fine. You can change your baby in there when the weather’s rubbish. They have solved the problem of wee and poo in all the bushes!

For me, the park has been little short of a sanity saver, at times. We can shut the door of our house, leave all the stuff for later and just escape to somewhere with a bit more space. In the summer when Leo was a baby I sometimes spent the entire day there. I think it was serving as a sort of alternative village square or something. There was usually someone who could hold the baby for a minute or who would come to fetch me if P fell over. I’m not someone who could function living in a commune – I need my personal space – but I love the hub that is our local park. It is one of the many reasons why I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the world.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Picture Post

As we left for Bath early on her birthday morning, Pearlie opened her pressies on the train. I think this is a rather lovely picture.

Here we are on a boat trip in the early evening of the same day. We were really lucky with the weather.

This is the point where the boat turns round.

This is the family gathering, once we were back home. It was a lovely day in the park. I am mulling a post all about the park, what it means to us as a family and how central it has turned out to be in the lives of our children. I look quite bizarre in the photo, don't you think? I was trying to shield the candles from the breeze but it looks rather like i'm preparing to slap poor Pearlie round the head!

Electrician came today and fitted us with lovely, new fuse box to replace the two old (about thirty years?) boxes. I feel very re-assured that it is all safe and checked.

We have an education student popping round in the morning to interview us about home ed. Better tidy up a bit...

We’re Ba-ack!

Well, that was a strange experience – nearly a month with no internet at home. Apologies to all those to whom we owe emails and so on. I lapsed back into a pre-internet state and actually got quite calm about it. I have read more books and watched some old videos. Dani was looking decidedly twitchy by the middle of last week (she says it was actually by the second day!) and I think she is very relieved to be back online. The kids were pretty ok with it, though they missed i-player.

A catch-up is impossible. Here’s a few things, in no particular order.

Pearlie had her eleventh birthday last week. We went to Bath for an overnight stay and bought her a new bicycle there. It is a rather fabby Dahon and should last her forever, or until she reaches 6 foot 4!

Bath was lovely. We stayed in a Travelodge room for £26 and crammed in lots of fun. We went on a little boat trip up the river, in the beautiful, early evening sun. We also visited the Bath Fashion Museum and went to Pizza Express for a birthday meal.

We all enjoyed a sunny, family gathering in the park in honour of P’s birthday.

I have been enjoying a continuing dalliance with the writing of Ali Smith. I was mesmerised by Hotel World and have read two of her books of short stories too.

Leo has been prompted to learn a joined up writing style by Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide. We bought a little workbooky thing, which goes through each join in turn, and he’s doing some every day. He is pleased with it and has abandoned his previous writing style (mixture of upper and lower case letters) and is using it all the time.

Pearlie has been enjoying all her birthday presents. She got lots of Jessops vouchers and has had a lovely splurge of processing. Some of her pictures are gorgeous. She got a plant for her room and some lights for her new bike, and is planning to buy an i-pod. She got clothes, too, and has been looking very sophisticated.

Leo is back to reading the end of the Amber Spyglass but has also started The Hobbit.

Dani has made lots of progress with her big, celtic knot blanket.

Pearlie went away for a weekend camp with her Woodcraft group. She had a great time, including playing games in the dark! Leo got to choose dinners while she was away and we ate lots of veggie lasagne and fruit crumbles.

We’ve bought tickets for an exciting Festival show, which we’re all looking forward to. Dani and I have also treated ourselves to tickets to see kd Lang in August. It’ s Pride weekend so everyone should be on a high. If you want an example of how spine tingling kd can be, when singing live, then check this out on YouTube.
Anyway, better get some sleep as electrician is coming tomorrow to fit the new fuse box.